Entering into the Morris County Tennis Tournament semifinals Sunday morning at the County College of Morris, Delbarton had a stranglehold on the team title, having won the previous 11 championships.
Needless to say, the Green Wave was determined to make sure there would be a 12th consecutive title — even if the team was lacking in varsity experience, with only two starters returning from a year ago.
And to make matters worse, one of those veterans was struggling with an injury.
“I have a nagging hip flexor injury,” said junior George Easley, the Green Wave’s second singles player, who was on the second doubles tandem last year. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to play.”
“He was contemplating not playing,” said Delbarton head coach John Thompson. “It was pretty scary. We all didn’t know if he was going to be able to go. He’s so crucial to the team.”
Not to mention that Easley was in the same bracket with his friend and workout partner, Andrew Kim of Montville.
The Mustangs offered the best opportunity of stopping Delbarton’s incredible tenure at the top of Morris County tennis.
“Especially with the quality of teams in the county,” Thompson said. “Montville is good. Chatham is good. It was a good test for our group. It was one of the tougher years in terms of competition. We lost five starters and all three singles players to graduation.”
But Easley managed to pull himself together and take the court for his semifinal match.
“I went out there and gave it a shot,” Easley said. “Thank God I was able to play.”
Easley’s teammate, Mike Boyle, was the top seed at first singles. Easley was awarded the top seed at second singles. The seeding committee certainly did their job, because both Boyle and Easley won their respective singles titles and the Green Wave made it 12 straight county crowns, holding off Montville by three victories, 20 to 17.
“No one wants to be part of the team that breaks the streak,” said Easley, who handled Kim, 6-2, 6-0 to win the second singles title. “So there’s pressure. But we’ve all responded pretty well to that pressure. I knew that it was going to be close with Montville, so my win was really big.”
Easley knew that it was going to be tough getting through the injury, then facing a friend in the finals.
“He’s a very good player,” Easley said of Kim. “I knew I had to work the baseline. Since I train with him, he’s a pretty good friend. On the court, it’s tough to play against a friend, but I did what I had to do. When it was all over, I shook his hand and we’re still friends.”
Boyle also did his part, defeating Pete Daly of Morristown-Beard, 6-4, 6-4 in the first singles final match.
“After 11 years, we didn’t want to be the ones who break this,” Boyle said. “In fact, it would have been awful. There was good competition. George is a great player who took care of what he had to do. I still had some work to do, but I knew that I would always work really hard.”
Thompson believes Boyle is one of the hardest workers he knows.
“He’s unbelievable,” Thompson said. “He’s a fighter. He has that blue-collar work ethic. All the other coaches mention that to me, saying that Mike fights for every single point. He’s not just a good player. I love his fiery attitude and I think the other kids feed off that.”
Thompson said that Boyle and Easley began their contributions long before the spring season began.
“They knew that they would have to step up and be singles players this year,” Thompson said. “So they really worked hard in the offseason and that has surely paid off. Who would know that the strength of our team would be at the top of our lineup?”
Jeff Hill of Mountain Lakes, the second seed at third singles, defeated top-seeded Matthew Goldstein of Montville, 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 to win the third singles title. Hill did the Green Wave a little bit of a favor knocking off a Montville player. Hill, a towering left-hander, displayed a devastating serve during his victory.
The first singles title went to Chatham’s tandem of Ryan Lowe and Max Brown, the top seed. Lowe and Brown defeated Robby Higgins and Parker Pridgen of Delbarton, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.
At second singles, Andrew Brown and Jake Steinberg of Mendham took home the top prize. Brown and Steinberg defeated top-seeded Mark Pump and Robert Leverink, 6-1, 6-4 to capture the second singles championship.
But the day belonged — once again — to the Green Wave. It’s 12 straight now and counting.
“We talked about that after the match, that we’ve won a lot in a row and some of those had remarkable finishes,” Thompson said. “I have great admiration for this team and what they’ve been able to do. I still can’t get over this group. They’ve come so far from the first day of workouts.”
It certainly gives the Green Wave some momentum as they approach another run at a possible NJSIAA state championship in the weeks to come.
FIRST SINGLES: Mike Boyle, Delbarton def. Prapou Patel, West Morris 6-2, 6-4; Pete Daly, Morristown-Beard def. Omar Buhkari, Parsippany 6-1, 6-3. SECOND SINGLES: George Easley, Delbarton def. John Kirschenbaum, Mountain Lakes, 6-2, 6-0; Andrew Kim, Montville def. E.J. Gordon, Morristown-Beard, 6-2, 6-3. THIRD SINGLES: Matthew Goldstein, Montville def. Kyle McHugh, Delbarton 7-6 (7-5), 6-0; Jeff Hill, Mountain Lakes def. Yousuf Ismail, Chatham 6-4, 6-3. FIRST DOUBLES: Ryan Lowe and Max Brown, Chatham def. Sean Haughey and Matt Sweeney, Madison 6-2, 7-6 (7-3); Robby Higgins and Parker Pridgen, Delbarton def. Alex Vigil and Daniel Kim, Montville 6-4, 7-5. SECOND DOUBLES: Mark Pump and Robert Leverich, Chatham def. Daniel Margulies and Rahal Paranjape, Montville 6-3, 6-1; Andrew Brown and Jake Steinberg, Mendham def. Charlie Niebank and Jackson Doherty, Delbarton 6-1, 6-1.
FIRST SINGLES: Mike Boyle, Delbarton def. Pete Daly, Morristown-Beard, 6-4, 6-4. SECOND SINGLES: George Easley, Delbarton def. Andrew Kim, Montville, 6-2, 6-0. THIRD SINGLES: Jeff Hill, Mountain Lakes def. Matthew Goldstein, Montville 7-6 (7-5), 6-4. FIRST DOUBLES: Ryan Lowe and Max Brown, Chatham def. Robby Higgins and Parker Pridgen, Delbarton 4-6, 6-1, 6-1. SECOND DOUBLES: Andrew Brown and Jake Steinberg, Mendham def. Mark Pump and Robert Leverink, Chatham 6-1, 6-4.